MINNEAPOLIS -- A day after he was nearly perfect, Chris Sale’s teammates were highly complimentary of his performance Sunday against the Los Angeles Angels.
But as they recounted Sale’s one-hit masterpiece, White Sox players and coaches on Monday hardly seemed to be in awe of what they witnessed.
Without question, the White Sox were impressed by Sale’s feat.
They just weren’t stunned.
He may only have 37 major league starts to his name and those expectations may seem lofty, but it’s all a byproduct of Sale’s stuff, deception and work ethic. Catcher Tyler Flowers has an idea of just how hard Sale makes it for opposing hitters because he has a hard enough time catching the left-hander’s pitches.
“He really doesn’t have to be sharp to go out there and give you six or seven innings of one-, two-run ball,” catcher Tyler Flowers said. “He can be off his game and still have that kind of deception and effectiveness. It’s not surprising with how he throws. Catching the ball is a challenge. Trying to hit the ball has to be even more of a challenge.”
Especially when Sale has the benefit of the fastball-changeup combination he had on Sunday. Sale’s average four-seam fastball velocity was up nearly a mile per hour to 94.8 per brooksbaseball.net and Flowers thought the pitcher had a better feel for his changeup.
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Although he had an overpowering fastball to work with, Sale didn’t just try to dominate the Angels with that and his lethal slider. Teammate Jake Peavy sees that as a sign of a very mature pitcher.
“He understands how to add and subtract,” Peavy said. “That’s something that at his age, the maturity goes way beyond his years and you see that. Pitching to contact and throwing strikes, changing speeds. Chris probably threw 10-12 sliders last night. (It was) all sinker, four-seamer, changeup against some established big league hitters.”
Not only was the Angels’ lineup filled with established hitters, it was also filled with aggressive approaches at the plate early. It didn’t take long for Sale and Flowers to notice and they decided to rely on the changeup more than normal. Angels hitters bit hard with seven swings and misses on Sale’s 30 changeups, 23 of which were strikes.
The higher number of changeups led to fewer overall pitches, as Sale needed only 98 to complete the game. With Sale at 89 pitches heading to the ninth inning and the shutout intact, manager Robin Ventura was going to give Sale a “pretty good leash” to work with. Ventura was so mindful, in fact, he had closer Addison Reed warm up in between innings so Sale wouldn’t be distracted by the closer in the bullpen.
“You knew he was going out there and I didn’t want him seeing Reeder warming up,” Ventura said. “Didn’t want to give him the impression we’re waiting for the other foot to drop. He knew going out it was his. I always didn’t find it a good vibe for the pitcher when I was playing third base when the guy is warming up.”
[Video: Flowers thought Sale was going to get perfect game]
With the slider used sparingly on Sunday, Sale has the option of turning to that more often when he faces the Angels again in four days. Or, he can go back to the same combo he used Sunday. Any combination along with the deceptive delivery has Flowers confident in what the White Sox ace can do.
“I really can’t recall him going out there and not having anything working,” Flowers said. “He always has something working. That’s why he’s the ace of the staff and he’s gonna be for a while. His bad days are a No. 4 or 5 starter’s decent day.”